AROUND THE DROVER'S CAMP-FIRE
Enjoying an Outback camp-fire after a long day on the job is as traditional as damper and mutton to the drovers of the back country. As with most of these non-alcohol fed times the conversations would start with the important stuff like "Do ya' reckon it'll rain?" and "When do ya' reckon it'll rain?" until they turned to the stories of various feats, great events and wondrous adventures.
I was once at a camp-fire that attended by only drovers, who at the time did not have a mob on the road. There was Big Jack from Arillia Shack, Johnny the horse tailer (who used to tail horses), Swede Sonderson who they reckoned was from another country, but could speak proper, and was as gooda' talker as most blokes ya' could get ta' meet. There wuz me, or I wouldn't be able to tell this story—a true story I might add—a story which I heard with me' own ears. And there was Snowy White, or Pete White to those that knew that Snowy wasn't his proper name, but a name given to him for some reason or other. I mean he wasn't blond, or an albina or nuthin' so I don't really know, nor care that much, other than he was a good bloke.
The flames of a camp-fire are like one of them travelling magic shows, where you get to be hypnotised by some joker dressed in a suit like he was going to the annual ball, but lost his way and ended up making fools of folk, including himself. That is what the camp-fire is like, although you wouldn't call anyone around this one a fool.
The talk had got around to mobs of stock, with the men sharing tales of the ones they’d been with over the years, both cattle and sheep. included
As the night progressed, so did the size of the mobs. Had grog have been involved in this camp-fire, many arguments would have broken out before the mob count got above 2500! especially when you consider that the average mob for cattle was around four to six hundred, and sheep around two thousand, which was a bit of a big mob. With sheep, you would have maybe 4 dogs, with cattle usually none.
No one tried to talk over the other, such was the calming effect of a camp-fire of this type, where men could talk, and the teller would know that it was an over-indulged imagination, and other men would know that, but there was still the "Yeah mate," or "Yeah! I can believe that,", or just the nod of the head and "Yeah."
Most of the blokes had told their stories, and as the other stories held bigger stock numbers and travel lengths no one got in for a second chance. One shot only was the rule of camp-fire yarns.
Pete had sat all evening, adding his "Yeah," and his other highly intellectual comment, the one that equalled any other intellectual comment from the rest of us: "Yeah, I have heard of that, I think."
"Hey, Snow, you ain't sed much. What is the biggest mob you 'ave been with?"
Now Pete wasn't slow, like in being educated or anything, but he was slow in talking, and it seemed that he had to search real deep in his long lean body to find words to suit any occasion. Pete seemed to be a bit embarrassed at the question, or maybe he was embarrassed at his answer that he was about to give, 'cause he knew that it was gunna be hard to believe, even he had his doubts when he ever reiterated this yarn. However, it seemed to hit Pete's fancy to join in on the challenge. He got up off his stump, and topped up his pannican with the steaming, and heavily brewed, billy-can of tea and returned to his seat. We, that is the rest of us, knew that Pete could not be pushed, and that when he had something to say he was sure to say it as slow as he possibly could, mulling over every word as though he was translating from some language that the rest of us would not understand.
"I was with a mob of sheep once, back in the 50s. We picked them up at Winton and was to travel them down the TSR to Isisford, up along the Barcoo to Stonehenge, past the Trafalgar Water Hole, around behind the Jump up country and then down to Windorah to a property owned by, what's-is name, that bloke wot owned half of the Simpson Desert."
"Ya' mean Old Sid Kidman?"
"Yeah, him," Pete said, "Sid Kidneys," Pete soon got into his story.
"When the sheep were let out of the yards at the beginning of the drove it took the boss and the squatter half the day to count them out in threes, an' they strung out down the paddock for a mile or more, fair dinkum, I ain't seen a bigger mob before, or since that one trip," Pete was saying.
"How many were there, Snowy?" Someone asked, and was ignored by Pete as he had his own timetable for this story.
"The first camp was at the six mile bore head, and half the mob were at the camp a day before the tail caught up."
“Yeah! I can believe that," I decided to get in on this story. "I think I heard about this mob, back a few years ago."
"Yeah, me too," another said.
"Shut up yous blokes, I wanna hear how many sheep there were."
Snowy Pete White again filled his pannican, and just stood near the dwindling camp-fire before he continued.
"Well, I never got to hear the number spoke right out like, but I was in charge of the dogs, an' there wuz fifteen hundred of them."